Managers — 10 Signs You Need to Wrap Up Your Meeting
“Because meetings involve people, things can and will go wrong. Provide first aid when necessary.” — Let’s Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done by Dick and Emily Axelrod
How many times have you attended a meeting that seemed to serve no purpose?
How many times have you attended a meeting that meandered on and on and on?
As a manager, wouldn’t you want to know if your attendees felt that way about your meetings?
Of course, as employees, they’re unlikely to tell you. You’re the person who signs their annual evaluations, in most cases, and if not you probably have a direct line to the person who does.
Below I will tell you what most employees will not — the telltale signs that your meeting is dragging on endlessly and needlessly.
How I became aware of these signs
Well, first of all, I’ve been an employee who has attended a lot of meetings. I’m an impatient person and whether I was aware consciously or not, I performed many of these signs myself.
More than that, however, I’m a former college instructor. If you want to be in front of an audience who will gladly let you know when you’ve talked long enough, try teaching in an auditorium full of ninety 18- to 22-year-olds. They are not shy at all about letting you know when you need to wrap it up!
Without further ado and with thanks to my hundreds of former students, let’s have a look at the list.
Signs the meeting’s audience wants you to wrap it up
Shaking pen back and forth — The person shaking the pen would probably prefer to be gesturing with his/her hand in a circular motion, as though to say, “get on with it, get on with it,” but is too polite. The nonverbal message: “My time would be better spent elsewhere.”
Foot tapping — If you’re a musician playing in a bluegrass band, this is an excellent sign the audience is buying into the performance. As a manager running a meeting, not so much. The message, again, is “hurry it up,” one of impatience.
Body language directed toward the exit — If people are listening to you, but their body is pointed toward the door, or if their feet are pointed toward the door, they’re already anticipating being out the door.
Frequently checking watches — “The Outlook calendar said this meeting is from 10:00 to 11:00. Is it 11 yet? No, only 10:15. Now is it 11? No, 10:16.” That’s what they’re thinking. Of course, a lot of people check the time on their smartphones nowadays. If they tap the screen or press the home button but don’t otherwise interact with their phones, they are checking the time.
People start packing up at the first sign the meeting might be over — Perhaps you’ve finished one of several items you planned to talk about, and you say, “That wraps up…” Before you can utter another word, people start shoving papers in their notebooks and closing them, rolling back their chairs as though they are preparing to get up. The meeting may not be over, but they’re wishing for it to be.
Staring out the window — I am especially guilty of this one in business meetings. If I had to verbalize what was on my mind the times I’ve done this, I’d express it this way: “This part of the meeting in no way involves me. Why do I have to be here?”
Eyes glazed over or up and to the right — Daydreaming. The person displaying this behavior is nonverbally telling you that the content of the meeting is not interesting enough to keep their attention.
Looking at phones — When someone looks at their phone for an extended period of time during a meeting, you could assume it’s because they don’t want to miss any important work emails. More likely, though, they’re looking at Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat. You could ban phones during meetings to stop this. Or, you could stop holding such boring meetings.
You say, “Oh, and one more thing…” and someone sighs — Most people would view this as rudeness. A good manager views it as constructive feedback. When I taught college I got this response all the time and learned not to take it personally.
People are out of the office more than usual on the meeting day — If the weekly departmental status meeting is at 9 a.m. Thursday, do people “just happen” to schedule doctor appointments on Thursdays more than other days? Dentist appointments? Do people call in late with car repairs more on that day? Do people take more vacation and sick days that day of the week?
What to do instead
Get rid of “departmental status update” meetings altogether. Meaning, the meetings that start off with, “Let’s go around the room and have each person say what they’re currently working on.” Managers, I’m going to let you in on a secret: Employees hate that kind of meeting. “Do we really have to go to this stupid meeting today?” is a common office conversation about 10 minutes before status update conferences begin.
One of the better managers I ever had asked everyone to email her a summary of the status of their projects Friday afternoons. She would concatenate these into a spreadsheet and send them out to the department on Mondays. We were encouraged to read through them and look for ways we could synergize with our teammates throughout the week. That accomplished what a status update meeting would, minus the meeting.
Put a time limit on the meeting. Nothing speeds up a 60-minute meeting like making it a 30-minute meeting. Make sure anyone who will be asked to speak understands the time limit and how much of it will be allotted to what they have to say. Ask them to keep this in mind when preparing in advance.
Could the meeting agenda be accomplished via electronic tools? If you use Trello for your team to keep up to date on task statuses, is it really necessary to repeat those statuses in a meeting? If your team uses JIRA to update everyone on the progress of their projects, isn’t it rather redundant to have a meeting too? What does a face-to-face conversation accomplish that couldn’t be done on Slack?
Have shorter meetings with subsets of your entire team. Say you’re a human resources manager who supervises payroll/benefits staff as well as the staff that manages and maintains the office building. Wouldn’t it make sense to have separate 30-minute meetings with each group instead of an hour meeting with everyone? Would there realistically be enough synergy between the two groups to justify the extra half hour of everyone’s time?
If there’s a team member who consistently goes off-topic, have a private chat with them. There’s always that one person who turns a 45-minute meeting into a 95-minute meeting. If you find the accounting department meeting veering off into winter crockpot recipes for long periods of time, you may need to have a word with the person who hijacks the agenda.
Needless to say, that kind of feedback should be given privately, one-on-one. Let the meeting hijacker know that you appreciate their enthusiasm, but it’s important to get things done as quickly as possible and let people get back to work.
Hold the meetings standing up. No one wants to be on their feet for an extended period of time. Making everyone stand will encourage people to get it over with as quickly as possible, to not bring up any topics that are not absolutely necessary.
Constantly ask yourself, “Is what we’re talking about right now relevant to everyone here?” If it’s only relevant to one or two meeting attendees, then say, “Let’s get together afterward and discuss this so we can keep moving while we have the whole team here.”
“The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.” — Thomas Sewell
Tapping feet, shaking pens, staring at watches and phones, and attention directed away from the presenter are some of the signs that meeting attendees are not getting much value from being there. When you observe these signs, you need to wrap things up.
How do you do prevent seeing those signs in future meetings?
- Get rid of meetings that don’t serve an objective purpose
- Time limits
- Have shorter meetings with fewer people
- Use electronic tools to accomplish what a meeting would
- Have private discussions with team members who veer meetings off on tangents
- Have the meeting standing up
- Notice when the current topic isn’t relevant to the whole team and save the discussion for afterward
Give one or more of these suggestions a try. You’ll gain extra time in your busy day, and your employees and meeting attendees will thank you.
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